CSU board of trustees provide solutions to eliminate bottleneck courses

Champaign Williams

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Governor Jerry Brown discusses his views on techonology in the classrooms during the CSU Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 24, 2013 at the Office of the Chancellor in Long Beach, Calif. The board discussed the use of technology in CSU campuses and “bottle-neck” classes. Photo credit: Trevor Stamp / Daily Sundial

Efforts to eliminate “bottleneck” courses through technology were proposed for the 2014-2015 school year at the CSU board of trustees (BOT) meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Ephriam P. Smith, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer, introduced the Committee of Educational Policy, which would discuss the different initiatives to improve student success and timely graduation rates by incorporating technology into high-demand courses.

“We have been a leader nationally in the number of our online programs,” said Smith.  “Currently [the CSU system] has approximately 8,250 fully online state supported classes and 104 online degree programs. We have teaching and support services online to support these classes.”

“Bottleneck” is a term used to describe high-demand courses that students are unable to access. Studies show that the majority of students suffering from bottleneck courses are undergraduates attempting to complete their general education (GE) courses.

Bottlenecks have been known to delay students from finishing their course load, preventing them from graduating on time.

Daniel Thomas, vice president of CSU Fresno’s Associated Students, spoke to the board as a representative of CSU students statewide.

Having experienced the transition from community college to university, Thomas is concerned about impacted schools  and the lack of high-demand courses that transfer students are facing today.

“We have a fantastic transfer pathway…we need to make sure that we have seats available and uphold our promise that we made to all of the transfer students that want to come into the system. I hope that we continue to work together on this issue,” Thomas said.

CSU BOT’s goal is to use the $10 million that Gov. Brown budgeted for the CSU system to “increase the number of courses available to undergraduate students enrolled in the CSU with the use of technology, specifically those courses that have the highest demand, fill quickly, and are prerequisites for many different degrees. Priority will be given to develop courses that serve greater numbers of students while providing equal or better learning experiences,” according to a quote from last year’s BOT budget bill.

Members of the Committee on Educational Policy examined four possible ways to improve student success and timely graduation rates as a means to lower the high number of bottleneck courses in 2014-2015.

According to the CSU Bottleneck Course Survey Report, the Committee on Educational Policy suggests the CSU system does the following:

1. Improve student retention with out-of-the-box course redesigns and technologies

2. Improve student access to required and necessary courses

3. Improve students access to STEM lab courses, which is virtual labs

4. Provide students with timely and effective course and career advisement

Hilary Baker, vice president for Information Technology and chief information officer at CSUN said including more online classes in addition to traditional classes will assist students in graduating on time.

“This fall, we certainly are seeing students get into classes they choose to get into,” said Baker. “That was one of our goals this year.”

A survey was conducted in order to attain data from all 23 campuses concerning the continued issue of bottleneck courses. The BOT wanted to “avoid developing policy based on individual [university] accounts …[and to] provide information regarding bottleneck courses using a uniform definition,” according to the Committee of Educational Policy report.

The survey was conducted June 14, 2013 to Sept. 6, 2013.  With the data collected from all 23 campuses, the BOT discovered that the majority of bottleneck courses in 2012-2013 were 100, 200, and 300 level courses.

The most common reasons provided to explain why bottleneck courses occurred was either because there were not enough full or part-time faculty to teach the course,  enough funding to hire faculty to accommodate the demand or enough courses offered.

The study also showed that nearly 40 percent of students were retaking classes required for their majors because they initially received a low grade but were required to get a “C” or better to move forward.

One of the main programs initiated to assist in the elimination of bottleneck courses is the Intrasystem Concurrent Enrollment (ICE) program. CSU officials recognize that there are courses students may need but don’t have access to on their particular campus. ICE alleviates this problem by allowing students to take a handful of high-demand courses offered at other CSU’s online.

As of this fall 2013, ICE has 200 students enrolled and 33 full courses available online such as “courses in geography, statistics and life science,” according to CSU data. CSU plans to increase the number of courses offered in the ICE program if those courses that demonstrate high levels of student success in the upcoming Spring 2014 semester.

In terms of course redesign, representatives from all 23 campuses have participated in eAcademics workshops where they discussed the redesign of bottleneck courses by incorporating technology into the course curriculum.

Baker said CSUN is redesigning their courses by incorportating technology to make education more affordable and accessible for students.

“We continue to be focused on thinking about ways for more affordable learning opportunities for students, and so to some extent myCSUNtablet is part of that initiative. (MyCSUNtablet) encourages faculty to take some of the material and move them to an e-text mode.”

CSU officials are also brainstorming ways to transition high-demand labs into virtual labs. The virtual labs will be hybrid lab courses and will incorporate face-to-face instruction with online approaches to learning.

One of the main courses that will incorporate virtual labs are math courses. Because math courses are a required gateway in many majors, CSU officials said it is necessary to think of a way to provide more access to math classes for students.

According to a report regarding CSUN’s hybrid math lab, the virtual lab has made the hybrid course available to 15 percent more new students, and 15 percent fewer students are retaking the course.

Four CSU campuses have implemented this hybrid math lab, making the number of students enrolled in the 2013-2014 school year an estimated 3,100.

CSU officials said “throughout the next four years all CSU campuses will (also) use technology solutions to streamline advisement, registration and academic planning for undergraduate students resulting in more defined curriculum pathways to track progress toward a degree and increase degree completion rates.”